Thursday, August 27, 2009

What I read on my summer vacation... A Non-Historical Book Review.

Duma Key
by Stephen King

Cover: Cheeeeeeeeeeesy.

Summary: Edgar Freemantle, a rich and successful businessman, is the victim of a horrific construction accident that results in the loss of a limb, brain damage, and his life turned upside down. He's jobless, his wife has left him, and he can see little opportunity for happiness in his future.

So he drops everything and moves down to Duma Key, a remote island off of Florida, for an extended vacation. Perhaps a change of scenery and a little alone time is all he needs to set things right with his life. He settles in a large estate he begins to call "Big Pink," and is lulled into a sense of contentment to the sound of the shells clacking in the surf underneath the house.

Elizabeth Eastlake is the owner of his rented property, but she's certainly not keeping up the place; she suffers from the beginning stages of Alzheimer's and depends entirely on her lawyer, Jerome Wireman, to take care of everything. Edgar comes to enjoy his time with Wireman and "Ms. Eastlake," but something in the Key is disturbing him. Ever since he took up painting as a hobby to take his mind off his pain and loneliness, he has found himself painting things he couldn't know are true. He paints his daughter standing with a man, and the next day discovers his daughter is engaged. He also goes into trance-like states and paints horrific images. His greatest concern, however, is that he can paint things that become true. Is it a gift or a curse? And is he the only person who has been affected thus on the island?

My Review: This could have been 200-300 pages shorter than it was. Or rather, several hours shorter, since I've been listening to this one on CD in my car for some time. It was read by John Slattery (whom you may know as Roger Sterling on Mad Men), who did a fantastic job.

That being said, I can't help it: I'll always love a Stephen King novel. I probably read one every summer. I'm biased to this work because I love so much of his other stuff. I was bound to like some things in Duma Key, so I'd be interested to hear if any of you have read this and little-or-nothing else by Stephen King. Once again, I must split this review in two:

The Good:
  • Stephen King is one of the few writers who can truly cause me to have nightmares. I watch horror movies every once in a while, and I've read Poe, Stoker, and others, so I consider myself somewhat desensitized. King can still freak me out long after I put the book down, and Duma Key still contained a few of those terrifying scenes. When Ms. Eastlake says into the phone, "My father was a skin diver," I heard it in my head, perfectly creepily. Say what you will, the man can still create atmosphere like no other.
  • Edgar himself was a likable enough hero. He seemed to genuinely care about his family, even though he had absolutely no sense of saving himself from certain peril.
  • Ms. Eastlake is a great, creepy character. While I didn't have a personal attachment to her, I liked the darkness that seemed to permeate the chapters where she appeared.
  • King has been working lately with a theme along the lines of reality is thin. This appears in his short story N. and is spoken aloud by several characters in Duma Key. The idea that there is a darkness, perhaps a chaos, lurking all around what we know as reality, and that there are some places on Earth where it breaks through, and maybe we help it break through, is frightening and believable, and very intriguing. I'd like to see him develop this theme in future stuff, but perhaps he has to think about it a little more before he continues to tackle it.
And now The Bad:
  • Edgar, horrible things are happening to you. Why did you not leave the island when you had the chance? I know the obvious response is, "Well, then there wouldn't have been much of a novel, would there?" But come on, King, you're better than that: give us a good reason he would stay there.
  • I didn't like the character of Wireman at all and he's quite prominent throughout the story, so this was something of a problem. He kind of has this hackneyed, cliche manner of speaking, and he's kind of an oversharer, and basically I didn't understand why Edgar was so eager to become friends with him. I mean, I understand that Edgar was lonely and would have made friends with a dog if he'd had one at that point, but still, King, you're better than that. Don't let your secondary characters become Saturday morning TV show cutout types.
  • Oh, man, there's a little, "With our powers combined, we will defeat this evil once and for all!" at the end that almost made me throw the CD out the window. I listened to 16 CDs for this ending?!? I'm not going to say what happens, but it was disappointingly mundane.
  • Edgar's adult daughter is written as a very childish figure, in her speech and behavior. While it could just be a character distinction, I'm more inclined to think it was a lack of realism in writing how young women speak. I have to admit: I've never met someone who spoke like her.
  • So. Much. Digression. I feel like King is sometimes high in concept, low in practice. He comes up with a great idea, but then fizzles out when he fails to come up with a satisfying conclusion or explanation. Here, I think that's exactly what happen, so he leans on digressive scenes and plotlines and character arcs to distract you form the fact that he doesn't know where the story is going. That never used to happen in his old work, like 'Salem's Lot and Cujo and Carrie. There was so much that did not add to the story that I felt like it was really a mark of poor plotting, and was just to add another hundred pages or so onto this cinder block of a book. I like a long novel as much as the next person, but I like it when it's full of relevant plotting and characters.
  • The worst offense was the "revelation" of truth behind the bad things happening on the key. There wasn't a whole lot of logic to it. It was anticlimactic. This wasn't a good villain, and I feel like his other work develops the "bad side" of the story so well, so I was terribly disappointed.
So, there you have it. It's not as bad as it could have been, but it could also have been better.

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1 comment:

  1. An interesting review that I cannot argue with.

    PS Gifford